In Analytics insights, Game marketing, Games Analytics

Managing and scaling user acquisition (UA) is the number one pain point for free-to-play (F2P) developers. In the current climate, with a small number of juggernaut publishers dominating the app store charts, the only way to scale a game beyond a few thousand installs is to spend big on paid user acquisition. This has been the status quo now for a number of years, but is it still relevant?

The process of user acquisition has matured as publishers have got smarter about how to spend their marketing budgets.

In the early days of paid user acquisition (circa 2013-14), it was common for organic installs to outperform paid ones as the level of targeting and scrutiny applied by publishers to their spend was poor. As better practices of return on investment (RoI) accountability have spread, throughout the F2P community, the performance of paid acquisition has improved dramatically, fuelled further by the expansion of dedicated UA teams and strong competition among UA providers. However, the generic question remains; how much better are paid game installs than organic?

The deltaDNA deep data platform tracks the source of installs across hundreds of games via our partnerships with Appsflyer and Adjust. Combining this with our analytics, we are well placed to compare the performance of organic and paid-for players.

For this exercise, we will take data from across 100+ games. To keep it simple, we only consider players from the United States, as typically user acquisition for many games will be focused here. The table below compares mean key performance indicators across deltaDNA games for iOS and Android devices split by paid and organic sources.
UA Blog Table


It is clear that the average game on deltaDNA is using user acquisition effectively to bring in good quality players. Of course, this does not guarantee a positive return on investment; cost per install (CPI) for iOS is likely to be $2+, while Android is around half of this, so even though these paid users have an average revenue per user (ARPU) around four times higher than organic users, the average game is still only generating half of their CPI in the first month of play.

It’s worth pointing out that not every game is seeing organic installs being outperformed by paid. Of our sample, 10% of iOS and 16% of Android games show better KPIs among organic players. Another thing to consider is the scale of user acquisition, as it may be easy to identify small pockets of high quality players but these will be limited in their availability. We can see this in the performance of games with >100k of paid installs have a ratio of paid to organic of only two times, compared to the four times seen for games that have only acquired <100k of players via this route.

Ultimately the secret to successful user acquisition is testing; modern UA platforms offer a significant amount of control, and dedicating the time and resource to find the right audience for your game is a reality of modern free-to-play publishing. In deltaDNA, we have a range of predictive tools that allow you to forecast lifetime value (LTV) and churn from your acquisition channels both quickly and accurately, allowing dynamic UA testing.

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